The Hansen Dam Rally, officially known as the All British Hansen Dam Ride, is a SoCal tradition decades in the making and hosted the first week of every November by the Southern California Norton Owners Club (SCNOC). The day-long event includes a 95-mile loop through the canyons of the western San Gabriel Mountains and culminates in a bike show at the Hansen Dam Recreational area located in the northeastern San Fernando Valley, some 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
More than 1,000 machines took part this year, the event’s 35th anniversary. The Hansen Dam parking area was filled to overflow capacity with more bikes than the previous year, and while predominantly attended by British marques – Norton, Triumph, BSA, Velocette, Vincent, Enfield, etc. – all bike makes and years were welcome.
“What a phenomenal ride we had – leave it to the Brit-o-philes to put together the perfect ride,” said Lorenzo Dalla Vedova, the mover and shaker spearheading the establishment of the new Los Angeles Motorcycle Museum now in the works. “The ride is a truly a perfect combination of riding roads and scenery. So you enjoy the technical riding sections, the fast parts, a stop to eat a burger, then more riding. You also meet all kinds of motorcycles enjoying the unbeaten path of a great ride on a beautiful sunny Sunday.”
The SCNOC emphasizes minimal rules and maximum motorcycle fun during its several events ongoing throughout the year. To quote the club’s president, Kevin Nerden, everything, including the show competition, is “super casual.”
Bill Getty of JRC Engineering, a leading supplier of British vintage parts, has been a Hansen Dam regular for decades, and this year he helped judge the bike show component of this year’s event.
“The Best of Show bike was a very nice Triton, a mix of everything,” Getty commented. “It had a rare Chatland big-bore barrel on a unit engine in a ’64-66 Norton Slimline featherbed frame with a Lyta tank. The front fork was a ’71 Triumph with a ’71-72 conical wheel on the back dressed up to look like a Manx. Kevin, when explaining the criteria to the bike show judges, stated that the winning entries should look like they were used a lot and well-loved – no trailer queens, nothing too shiny. It helps if the tires are half worn out. The Triton showed that it had been used a lot, was very cool, so it took Best of Show.”
Getty chuckles and adds, “The two custom show bikes, including the ’51 BSA brought by Barry Weiss were very cool, too, and he offered the judges new Corvettes if he won. But we can’t be bought.”
Another of the show winners was a 1967 BSA A65 Spitfire MK II with an alloy tank. Seems the owner, Brian Person, had bought the bike new and at the same time ordered the custom tank and then added high-level pipes because he always liked them. He was the original owner and also restored it.
The Best British Other category winner was a BSA Gold Star replica built from scratch by the owner after purchasing the original motor and designing the rest around it. Its custom frame was built around the same dimensions as a vintage Velocette he owns and loves, using the same rake, trail and swingarm pivot as the Velo, and all built at home.
Going back to the ride, which Bill Getty took on his 1970 “Old Dependable” Bonneville, he says, “Nobody crashed or even got a ticket – everybody had a great day. But the one thing that was exceedingly sad was that our favorite Mexican restaurant and our usual lunch stop had gone out of business.”
Steering the club as president keeps Kevin Nerden at redline while also running a plumbing company and keeping pace with a son who plays basketball and soccer. Joining him as a loose executive committee are Chris Hovland, Mitchel Reichein and Klaus Wiene, the three actually conferring the title of president/benevolent dictator upon Kevin after all four were picked as club officers by the former president Bill “Bib” Bibbiani prior to his passing.
At this year’s rally, Nerden brought the well-known “Johnny Cash Bike,” a’68 Norton 750 built from a mix of parts and thus the reference to the Cash song, “One Piece at a Time.” It was built, and named, by “Bib” aka “The Voice of Hansen Dam,” who had been the much revered, inspirational force behind the Norton Club and the Hansen Dam rally for many years. This was the second year since the baton had been passed to Nerden.
“We had great weather, all kinds of great bikes showing up, a safe ride for everyone, a good spread of bike show entries, and all the volunteers, especially Brendan Durrett and his wife Denise, who made it a special day for our 35th,” said Nerden. “We were fortunate to have JRC’s Bill Getty and Jim Ashworth as our judges along with Dennis Tackett who flew in from Texas. He was one of the guys who rode our 1,200-mile run from Tacoma to L.A. last August. He also puts on the Lake of the Pines for the north Texas Norton club. We’re already planning for next year’s event and might even have a surprise or two, like a Norton raffle bike.”
At the end of the day, after the trophies were handed out, the last hangers on geared up for departure, including this rider/writer. The 35th annual Hansen Dam Rally had lived up to its name: The Best Ride by a Dam Site.” Scroll down to see more photos of an eclectic mix of bikes and their owners.